It’s hard to come up with a solid working definition of event comics. Is Blackest Night an event or a crossover? Is there a difference? What about Civil War? House of M? Kree-Skrull War? Some people look at event comics, whatever definition of event comics they subscribe to, as a cheap cash-in, a waste of time, or everything that’s wrong with comics. My personal definition is a little nebulous, but it boils down to event comics being those comics where big action goes to get bigger. It’s where you go to see people you’re familiar with come out of their comfort zone (or ongoing series) and do big things. When properly executed, event comics are great. When done poorly, they suck. That’s true of anything, though.
When trying to define my idea of event comics, I came up with a pretty apt comparison. Event comics are the posse cuts of comic books. Posse cuts are an integral part of rap these days. You gather up three or more emcees and tell them to get to work. DJ Khaled has made a career out of creating innumerable posse cuts, and classics like A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario,” Noreaga’s “Banned From TV,” and Cool Breeze’s “Watch for the Hook” still go hard years or decades after they came out.
Noreaga’s “Banned From TV” is a classic example of a posse cut. He enlisted Big Pun, Cam’Ron, Nature, and The LOX for the first full song on his NORE tape. The only thing all of them have in common is that they’re all New York rappers who were buzzing hard at the time or known for being reliable spitters. “Banned From TV” is the rap equivalent of the NBA All-Star Game. You might not want to see Derrick Rose play with Carmelo, Dwight Howard, LeBron, and Dwyane Wade all the time, but once a year? It’s a treat. It’s usually a hot mess — but it’s a treat.
This is true of “Banned From TV” as well. Big Pun is undeniably the nicest rapper on the track, but everyone who showed up is more than capable of acquitting themselves well. And yet, it’s unassuming and underrated Nature that steals the show with the very first verse. Even if you were a Nature stan back in the day, this probably came as a huge and pleasant surprise.
There’s always someone who blacks out on a posse cut and steals the show. Nicki Minaj absolutely won Kanye West’s “Monster,” out-rapping three of the hottest rappers in the game with a lopsided flow. Busta Rhymes did it on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario.” TI’s smash hit “Swagger Like Us” showed us that he could out-perform Lil Wayne at the height of his Best Rapper Alive period. Posse cuts are guaranteed to be full of surprises, and that’s what makes them so delightful.
Divorced of any intent beyond just making a cool song, posse cuts are essentially artist showcases. You listen to posse cuts because you want to see how these people work together and so you can pick sides once the track’s done. Who has the best verse of Wu-Tang’s “Triumph?” (It goes Ghost, then GZA, and then Meth.) What about Cool Breeze’s “Watch For The Hook?” (Gipp Goodie.) Or Khaled’s “Holla At Me” (Paul Wall, or maybe Rick Ross.) and “We Takin Over” (It’s TI, and then Weezy a close second.)?
I wouldn’t buy an album of just posse cuts (sorry Khaled), but they serve a valuable purpose, and a lot of their appeal is shared in event comics. On the most basic level, they’re cash-ins. People will check on an event if someone they like is in it, just like you’d listen to a posse cut if your pet rapper is featured. It increases your potential audience. Events and posse cuts also tend to be light in content. You’ll rarely hear a posse cut about pain or love. It’s always just a chance to have someone really go in.
It’s true in comics, too. You’re not going to find a heart-breaking work of outstanding emotional resonance in an event comic. At best, some character you have an irrational affection for might die and you get a little weepy like a cry-cry. But really, you’re buying those comics because you want to see Spider-Man punch Doctor Doom or Superman light up whatever forgettable arch-villains Wonder Woman has.
When I think of the relatively few event comics that I’ve enjoyed, they’ve been high on action and maybe a solid medium on melodrama. X-Cutioner’s Song was a fun ride because you ended up with the three baddest X-Men at the time — Cable, Bishop, and Wolverine — fighting, teaming up, and then battling bad guys. The stakes were high, every character got a chance to talk about the focused totality of her psychic powers or smoke cigarettes in the dark, and I finished the book pleased that I saw a sufficient number of cool scenes for my money.